C.J. Barnett loves the tradition of sterling defense at Ohio State, so much so that the fifth-year senior safety paid homage to the great units of the past by having their nickname tattooed on the inside of his left forearm: “Silver Bullets.”
The former Northmont standout earned a starting job as a sophomore on an outfit that would become worthy of that title — the 2010 squad finished fourth nationally in scoring defense and fifth in total defense —but he suffered a knee injury in the second game and missed the rest of the year.
He was a starter again in 2011 and ’12, but the Buckeyes fielded a middling defense both seasons, finishing statistically in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.
Barnett, though, hasn’t forgotten the standards at OSU and doesn’t mind telling others what it means to be a Silver Bullet defense.
“Silver Bullets is 11 guys just flying around the ball, playing fast and relentless,” he said. “I think the name is fitting for how we want to play. I think it’s instrumental to our success. We have to play fast and relentless if we want be as good as we can be.”
The Buckeyes have seven new defensive starters this season — eight for the opener, since cornerback Bradley Roby is serving a one-game suspension — but they’ve picked up potentially disruptive pass rushers and have added speed throughout the unit after two recruiting cycles under coach Urban Meyer.
Starting outside linebacker Josh Perry, a 6-foot-4, 246-pound sophomore, said: “We’re definitely faster. And coach Mick (strength coach Mickey Marotti) has done a great job with us in the weight room. I think we’ve got guys who are bigger than anyone out there and guys who are faster than anyone out there.”
Barnett wouldn’t go that far, but he has lofty expectations for Saturday’s opener against Buffalo: “We want to leave a great impression on the world.”
Meyer said he can’t be sure what the Buckeyes have until he sees them in game conditions, but he’s looking for them to be in attack mode from the start.
“The one thing about Ohio State defense, for a decade they were about as good as there was in America. The last two years, it hasn’t been that way. I’m anxious to get it back to the Ohio State level,” he said.
“I think we’re going to be a faster defense and, hopefully, more aggressive as we grow in our schemes and put in a little more pressure packages. Last year, we started the season as kind of a bend-but-don’t-break defense where it seemed like we were always on our heels — and that’s not the kind of defense anyone wants. We want to be an aggressive defense.”
Meyer said the Buckeyes could play as many as six defensive backs at a time against pass-oriented teams, something they weren’t equipped to do before. And Barnett likes the sound of that.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s the first time we’ve had that many DBs (on the field at once) since I’ve been here.
“I love that idea. Not a knock toward the linebackers or anyone else, but I love having athletes out there. And we’ve been working on our tackling. Hopefully, that’s not a problem this year.”
The Buckeyes weren’t fundamentally sound for much of last season, getting gashed so often for big-gainers that Meyer started attending defensive meetings with his staff and players midway through the year to clean up the poor tackling.
It worked. The Buckeyes gave up an average of 395.7 yards in the first seven games, 309 in the final five.
Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said: “We felt better about how we finished last season with that stuff. … It shouldn’t be an issue.”
Ohio State defense
Scoring defense (points per game) Total defense (yards per game)
2012 31 (22.8) 34 (359.6)
2011 27 (21.0) 19 (323.6)
2010 5 (14.3) 4 (262.2)
2009 5 (12.4) 5 (262.3)
2008 6 (13.9) 14 (293.8)
2007 1 (12.8) 1 (233.0)
2006 5 (12.8) 12 (280.5)
2005 5 (15.3) 5 (281.3)
2004 19 (18.3) 30 (332.0)
2003 16 (17.6) 10 (296.9)